A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Burying a Groundhog….

“Ashes to ashes – Dust to dust.” ~The Bible?

All spring, my family and I have delighted in watching a trio of baby groundhogs hanging out in our yard.

Sometimes, they are accompanied by a larger groundhog who we have been calling Homer P. Groundhog for the last couple of years.  Although, it’s more likely that we should be calling her Henrietta, since according to my research, male groundhogs are dead beat dads.

As the spring has progressed, we’ve watched as the trio has become increasingly more  independent and brave; venturing further into the yard and away from the comforts of one another and their various hiding places.

Today, while I was busy moving a large pile of mulch, I saw the trio peeping in and out of the wood-line at the back of our property and darting in and out from underneath our shed.  It was as though they were watching me work and hoping I might stop to play.

So, I started singing just like Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and they ran into my arms for a cuddle, while a tiny bluebird perched on my shoulder and a baby bunny hoped excitedly around my feet waiting to be picked up.  I may or may not have made that last bit up.

Anyway,  as I continued my chores, I was oblivious to the predator lurking in the trees until it was too late.  As I was making my way through the lawn with a wheel-barrow full of mulch intended for a flower bed around our shed, I saw a huge hawk take flight from the ground near the doorway.

I was momentarily in awe of the bird.  I’ve seen them quite a bit, but never that close and I’ve never seen one land in the yard.  Wow, I thought.  I wish had been able to get a picture.  

Then, as I continued toward the shed, I saw him….one of the trio….lying motionless on the ground.

“Oh, no!”  I said, crouching to see if he might still be breathing.  There were no significant injuries that I could see at first, but upon closer inspection, I saw a small amount of blood on his chest near one of his little armpits.

“Really?”  I said, looking up into the trees where the hawk was perched.  “That is so fucked up.  He was a baby.  You should be ashamed of yourself.”  

“Get away from my kill, or I’ll scalp you.”  The hawk said in return.

“Just try it, assshole.”  I said, waving my shovel in his direction.

After shouting profanities at one another for a couple of minutes, I told him he should come and claim his meal.  But he just called me an overly sensitive bitch and asked me if I was on my period, before taking flight and fleeing the scene of his crime, leaving me to deal with the body.

As I stood there, I saw two tiny heads, what remained of the trio, now the duo, poke out from underneath the shed before quickly disappearing again.

I said nothing, just stood there.  Again, the duo poked their little heads out, but this time, they made a tiny, high pitched barking noise before hiding again.

I backed away and for the next hour, I watched as the duo peeked out from underneath the shed, calling for their sibling.  Ugh, it was heartbreaking.

I didn’t want them to have to continue to see their loved one like that; dead and waiting to be claimed by something, so I decided to bury him.

I was making the grave marker out of two sticks and some twine, when two men pulled into the driveway.  About a week ago, I had posted some old fencing material for the taking on Facebook Marketplace and the two were there to claim it.

“Hey,” I said, the makeshift cross in my hand, “I just buried something in the woods.”  

It wasn’t until the words had spilled from my mouth that I realized how creepy and odd they must have sounded.  And so of course, I decided to run with the theme.

“What did you bury?”  One of the men asked me.

“I can’t tell you that,” I said.  “You know where I live now.  Come along though.  The stuff you’re looking for is in the woods back here.”  

Then, I began to whistle a tune as I walked towards the woods with my little crucifix;  (One, two, Freddy’s coming for you)….”Just a little farther, we’re almost there.”

Just before we hit the path to the woods, I stopped and said, “I was just joking.  I buried a groundhog.”

They did not seem assuaged….but who could blame them, really?  I mean, what kind of a person buries a groundhog?

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Flashback Friday – That Time I Wore A Hair Piece….

Earlier this week, while trying to keep myself occupied….and my anxiety at bay….until an upcoming doctors appointment, I decided to clean out and reorganize a closet that has essentially served as a dumping ground for things that otherwise have no sensible place, or purpose.

The task was long overdue and a good distraction.  As I pulled out things like a taxidermy bull frog wearing a sombrero and playing a vihuela and a small jar containing a couple of baby teeth, my hand brushed across something hairy resting in the back of the closet on one of the shelves.

Instinctively, I jerked my hand back and bent to gaze, squinting into the dark recesses of the closet, trying to figure out what might be living back there.

Did we end up getting that cat?  I briefly wondered.  Oh man, when was the last time I saw the dog?  

Then it dawned on me.  My wig.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, I of course wanted to know if I was going to lose my hair.

“Yes.”  My doctor said.  “And when it falls out, it will fall out in chunks, which can be very distressing.  I always suggest that my patients just go ahead and shave it off.  Just get it over with all at once.”

At first, I thought the loss of my hair would be no big deal for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having hair, but I’ve never been one of those people who is deeply attached to it.

I’ve never cried after a bad haircut and over the years I’ve never been afraid to experiment with different lengths….including a super short pixie cut I sported throughout much of the late 90’s.

But, as the time grew nearer to when my doctor predicted it would begin to fall out, I found I couldn’t do it.  It seemed an outwardly visible symbol that I was “sick” and I didn’t want to see it.

So, my doctor’s advice to go all GI Jane was the only time throughout the entire ordeal that I did not do exactly as he advised.  It was a decision I regretted when it began coming out in large pieces and precisely when he said it would.

It was horrifying to find that by pulling, ever so slightly at my scalp, the hair strands would pull free as though they had never been attached at the roots.  I was surprised to find myself equally, if not more distressed, at the prospect of shaving my head as I’d been by the news of my diagnosis.

I delayed the inevitable for a few more days, but after a shower left me with sporadic, patchy bald spots….that made me look like I was on the verge of becoming that creepy doll from Toy Story….I gave in and headed off to have it shaved….a baseball hat clutched in my hand and my husband in tow.

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When the hairdresser asked, “What are we doing today?”  I told her it all had to go.

“Are you thinking a choppy bob or something even shorter?”  She asked, running her hands through my spotty hair that left strands between her fingers, with a somewhat confused expression.

“I have to shave it off.”  I said.  “I lost a bet with my husband and he’s being really mean about the whole thing.”

“OH!”  Was her shocked reply.  “Really!?”         

“No.”  I told her.  “I have cancer.  So, one way or the other, it’s gotta go!”

This was the way I preferred to tell everyone I had cancer.  When I was initially diagnosed, I  sent an email to family and friends that asked,“Hey!  Anyone know where I can get one of those yellow LiveStrong bracelets?”

As the responses came in, I responded with varying degrees of “Thanks, I have cancer now, so I figure, why not get the accessories!”

During the initial discussion about my impending hair loss with my doctor, he provided me with several resources for securing a respectable wig.  They were references his patients over the years had shared and he was happy to pass along the leads.

I wasn’t sure if I was a wig person, a scarf person, or a hat person, but I knew I wasn’t a bald is beautiful person.  My head looked lumpy, with strange lines that made me wonder if I might have been abducted and experimented on by aliens at some point in my life and I reasoned a wig might at least give me the appearance of a normal person.

I settled on a shop in New Hampshire that catered specifically to women undergoing cancer treatments.  I made an appointment for a wig fitting and my best friend flew in to be with me for the event.

When I arrived at the store, I was greeted by a very sweet woman who introduced herself as my personal stylist for the day.  She escorted us to a private room where I was free to try on as many wigs as I wanted in the comforts of my own space, while she bustled about pulling different styles and color options for me to try and offering styling tips and tricks along the way.

I shared with her that I was concerned it would look exactly like I was wearing a wig.  That everyone would know, and I would just end up looking….well, sad.

Kind of like Kim Zolciak in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta….when her wigs looked like something scalped from the head of a Barbie doll.

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“All those women in Hollywood….they are all wearing some kind of hair piece.  No one has hair that glossy or full or perfect.”  She told me.  “We sell the best here and trust me, no one is going to know the difference.”   

For the next many hours, my friend and I laughed so hard I thought I might go into labor as I tried on everything from pin straight platinum blonde wigs with fringe bangs, to dark black curly wigs that looked like eighties Cher.

I tried on mullets, the Farrah Fawcett shag, the “Rachel,” the 90’s era style haircut made famous by Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends.

I tried sleek bobs and spiral curls and every hair style ever seen on the Golden Girls.  It was hysterically funny and the laughter felt so refreshing that it alone was worth the trip.

Ultimately, I settled on a style called “The Posh” after Victoria Beckham.  My stylist gave me instructions on keeping it clean and preserving its shape and style.

She also cautioned me against wearing it close to open flames or bursts of heat….like those from an opened oven, or boiling water….which caused a whole new hysterical burst of giggles as my friend and I imagined various scenarios where I might find myself wearing it when it caught fire.

I left wearing the Posh, but it didn’t stay on my head for long.  It was itchy against my scalp and though it looked as real as it possibly could, I was terribly self-conscious about it.

Eventually, the wig made its way into its cardboard travel case, and was replaced with a pink stocking cap that said, “Cancer Sucks” in white embroidered letters across the front.

I told myself I just needed to get used to it….that I would practice wearing it at home first and then maybe test it out on short errands.  I could never shake the anxiety that having it on caused though.

What if I sneezed and the hairline of the wig ended up at my eyebrows?

What if a strong wind blew through, yanking it from my head and I had to chase after it while it rolled like a tumbleweed through the Whole Foods parking lot?

What if I had an itch and people could see the entire piece shift as I scratched?

What if it shifted throughout the day without my knowing it and it ended up sideways?

In the end, the only time I wore it for a prolonged period of time, was for a holiday party thrown by a college friend of my husbands.  The guest list for the party was long and included a wide range of close friends and acquaintances my husband had known for many years.

I didn’t feel like answering the myriad of questions that always came with seeing a bald, pregnant lady.  I just wanted to enjoy the food at the party and the rare evening out as a normal person, so I put the wig on for the night.

All evening, I made frequent trips to the bathroom to pull it off, scratch furiously at my scalp and replace it.  Or, to just double check that it hadn’t shifted in too noticeable a way.

As soon as we were back in the car, I pulled it off and hung my head out of the car window like a Xoloitzcuintle, enjoying the cool air on my scalp and deciding once and for all, I was just going to be a hat person.

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I kept the wig, but instead of wearing it, I used it as a tool to harass my family, our cleaning service and anyone else who might come through our house.

When it wasn’t perched on its metal rack on my bathroom sink in a variety of styles and with random hair accessories stuck to it, it was posed on a teddy bear in one of my step-children’s bedrooms waiting for them at bedtime.

Sometimes, I would leave it lying on a pillow in bed with socks stuffed into the cap to give it the look of someone sleeping under the covers.

Once, I affixed it over a remote control car and drove it through our living room scaring the piss out of the dog….literally.

After a while though, I ran out of ideas.  So, I gave it a good washing and stored it away in the closet deciding I would eventually donate it.

Yesterday, as I held it in my hands, running my fingers through the smooth synthetic hair, I knew it was time to find it a new home….preferably with someone who could really use it.

But first….and then I made my way to my sons bedroom, retrieved his remote control car, and went in search for the dog.

I Love the Smell of Cal-Stat….& Other Long Term Side-Effects of Cancer

“The best thing we can do is go on with our normal routine.”
~Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Recently, I celebrated one of my cancerversaries….a pretty big one too; five years, disease free.

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Back when I was going through the cancer, my family and friends would check-in on me all the time.  “How are you doing?  How are you feeling?  Is there I anything I can do for you, anything you need?”  they would ask.

So many people were worried about me and for me.  I was added to prayer lists across multiple denominations all over the country.  People mediated for me and gave me small tokens of faith meant to bring healing.  They sent me inspirational quotes and cards and handwritten letters and books about faith and grace.

I both loved and hated the attention.

I loved it, because it made me feel important and wanted and loved.  It made me feel tethered to life at at time when I was terrified I wouldn’t survive.

I hated it, because I prefer to spend most of my time trying to just blend in.  I’m not comfortable being the center of attention, ever.  I’m not comfortable with attention period.  I prefer to go unnoticed.  At all times.  Like an awkward ninja.

But being pregnant with cancer was the sick persons equivalent of being famous.  There was no blending.  Everyone noticed me.

At the hospital, walking into the infusion center with my big, pregnant belly, the nurses, other patients, volunteers, even the janitorial staff would remark with compassion about my plight.

When my hair started to fall out and I had to shave my head, seemingly every person on the planet began to notice me.  It was like I was walking around with a neon, blinking sign that said, “I am pregnant.  AND I have cancer.  Feel bad for me.”

And please don’t take this the wrong way.  I really did appreciate the support, even from total strangers, but it was overwhelming at a time when I could barely manage the broad spectrum of my emotions on a day to day basis.

Some days, I was the person who would respond with uncontrollable tears and fear.

Other days, I was the person who would say things like, “Oh, it’s no big deal, really.  I’m going to be fine and so will my baby.  At worst, he’ll glow in the dark for six months or so, but they’ve assured me it won’t last.”  (Lies)

But now, it’s been nearly eight years since my diagnosis and I’m five years disease free, which means for all intents and purposes, I am cured.  Every night and every day, I say a silent prayer of thanks for this life I’m so blessed to be living.

Now, it’s only on the cancerversaries that people ask how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and I always say, “Great!  I’m doing great.  I feel great!”  and that’s the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.

When you look at me, you can’t see the cancer anymore.  The chemo glow is gone from my face (think less glow, more wild animal trapped in a cage).  My hair has grown back and I don’t have any physical scars, save for the four small radiation markers that were tattooed on my chest.  I don’t have any physical limitations, at least none I’m aware of.

If we were to meet as strangers, you would never know I was a survivor….unless you got close enough to smell my favorite perfume and then you might ask why I smell like the exam room at your doctor’s office.  (I’ll explain in a second).

The whole truth is this, I am cured, but I’m also not.  I don’t physically have cancer any more, but it’s side effects still linger.

I’m not the exact same person I was before the disease.  In some ways, I’m a better version of the person I was before and in other ways, maybe not so much.

I have a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.  Cancer reset me in a way I think I needed, though I won’t go so far as to say I am grateful for it.

On the flip side, I am also far less tolerant and patient with people I think are ignorant.  I’m talking to you Trump supporters and the state of Alabama.

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So what I really want to say when someone asks me how I’m doing is this:

“I’m great, I feel great and also….”


1. I love the smell of Cal-Stat

Literally.

If you are one of those people who loves diffusing a specific essential oil, or burning aromatherapy candles because it helps to alleviate your stress, or anxiety, or just generally makes you feel good….well, that’s what Cal-Stat does for me.

BTW, in case you don’t know, Cal-Stat is a hospital grade hand-sanitizer.

And since you can buy it on Amazon, I am free to wear it like it’s perfume.  And I do.

The smell reminds me of my doctors and being at the hospital for my treatments, which some might think would have the opposite effect, but not for me.

I LOVE going to the hospital.

I feel safe there, surrounded by machines that beep and all the sterilized equipment.  I like when they take my blood and check my vitals.

If I could persuade my doctor to scan me every week, I would.  But apparently, that’s a ton more radiation than would be good for my already radiated body, so he very patiently tells me no every time I ask for a quick zap through the machine.

He likes to tell me it’s a good thing I no longer need to see him more than once a year and of course, that’s true, but my doctor and the hospital are my comfort items.

And since they won’t let me move in, and I can’t just fit my doctor into my pocket….and he refuses to come and live at my house, Cal Stat is the next best thing.


2.  Speaking of Anxiety…

Me:  I feel really great!

Anxiety:  (while I’m minding my own business watching a Southern Charm marathon)  No you don’t.  Remember that headache you had a month ago?  That was a brain tumor and now it’s too late.  You are riddled with tumors.  RIDDLED.  Really.  You should Google it.

So, that’s been fun.


3.   Bucket lists are kind of my jam

Actually, lists in general are my jam.  I love the small pleasure of making a list and crossing things off.  But my version of a “bucket list” doesn’t only include big adventures, or once in a lifetime vacations.

It’s an ever changing, running To-Do list of all the things I’ve said I want to do over the years, but haven’t followed through on.

Every new year, in lieu of a resolution, I review my list.  I mark off the things I’ve done, I add new things and I carry over the stuff I didn’t accomplish.

It includes books I want to read, recipes I’d like to test out, DIY projects I want to complete and activities I want to do with my family.

I feel the pressures of time and the shortness of life in a way I never did before.  My list is a way of keeping me accountable to the actual living of life.

For me, that means all the small things; baking Christmas cookies with my son, teaching him to ski, taking him camping, teaching him how to fish, carving out time just for my marriage and carving out time just for me.


4.  But I also have a Fuck-It-Bucket:

I will never be the exact right amount of enough for everyone.  And quite frankly, I don’t care to try.

I’m no longer available for things, or people that make me feel like shit.

Also, I’m going to eat the cake and all the taco’s and none of the kale.

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5.  Everything hurts and I’m dying…

I had no reason to believe I had cancer, before I was told I had cancer.  I was in my early 30’s and seemingly, perfectly healthy.  I was 22 weeks pregnant and my child was developing without a single complication or concern.  Life was good.  REALLY good.

When I was diagnosed, my doctors theorized that the cancer had been developing for 6-9 months before it ever said a word.  It was terrifying to me that I’d been living with cancer for that long and had no idea.

In the years that have since passed, I have become obsessed with trying to remember how I was feeling during those months I was sick, but didn’t know it.

Were there any clues I missed?  Symptoms I didn’t recognize?  Something, anything I can watch out for now, so that if it comes back, I’ll know before it gets another head start?

The answer is mostly no, which is scary AF.  So as a result, I pretty much think everything is cancer.

Muscle aches = bone cancer

Those occasional post child-birth hemorrhoids = colon cancer

New freckle (age spot, fine) = skin cancer

Headache = brain cancer

Cough = lung cancer

Stomach ache = cancer in all the organs

Normal?  What’s that?


In the last few weeks, I’ve been experiencing some gradual, physical changes that have sent me reeling.  My Google search history currently reads like I might be preparing for a gynecological board exam.

And of course, the more I read, the more aware I become of my body.

I have to pee.  When was the last time I went?  Am I urinating more frequently than I was before?

I think I look a little bloated.  Am I?  Wait, do I feel pain in my abdomen, my pelvis?  Where is my pelvis?    

I feel tired.  Am I more tired than usual?  What exactly is fatigue and when is it just fatigue and when is it, you know, FATIGUE?

My back hurts.  But I think it just feels stiff, or is that what “pressure” feels like?  Oh God, how can I tell the difference?  Why doesn’t Google have a definitive answer?

I just ate.  Did I eat as much as I normally eat?  Do I feel sick now?

I’m crying.  I’m crying a lot.  I’m terrified and anxious and if I stop moving, I’m going to have to sit with this.  And if I have to sit with it, the “what if’s” are going to start running through my brain like a freight train.

What if I have cancer again?

What if this time I can’t survive it?

What if I don’t get to watch my son grow-up?

What if he forgets about me?

What if….what if….what if….

And then today a casual friend says, “Hey, how are you?”

“Great!  I say.  “Just great….”

Wild Potato Chip Bags….

“Don’t be afraid to walk alone.  Don’t be afraid to like it.”
~John Mayer

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading out for my annual trek on the Appalachian Trail.

If you’ve been following the news of late, you might have heard a lot about the trail recently.  Sadly, two hikers were attacked on a section in Virginia this past Saturday.  One of the victims, a 43-year-old military veteran named Robert S. Sanchez, was killed.

Deaths along the trail are rare, and killings even rarer; two to three million people from all over the world, hike all or part of the trail annually, yet Saturday’s murder was only the 10th in the last 45 years.

And yes, I understand that’s of small comfort to those who know and love the victims.

My heart breaks for them and their family and friends.  And it breaks for the trail too.  I know that probably sounds strange, but there is just something about taking a long walk on a dirt path that’s so very good for the soul.

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I’ve been section hiking the trail for the last 5 years.  Not continuously, of course, but in sections.

There are a few ways one can endeavor to hike the trail.  You can thru-hike….which means you start at either the northern or southern end and go all the way….2,190 miles through 14 states, stopping at intervals to resupply, shower, wash clothes, etc.

You could slack pack….which is a thru-hike with a twist.  Slack packers carry a small backpack with a day’s worth of supplies.  They hike (some run) a bunch of miles from a designated starting point to a designated stop on the trail, where a car is waiting to transport the hiker to a meal and a bed….and then back to the trail to pick up where she left off, and repeat….day after day….until completed.

Or, you can section-hike the trail….like me, completing chunks of the trail over a series of backpacking trips until you’ve pieced all the sections together and completed the whole thing….it can take years.

No matter how you experience it though, it’s an experience worth having.  I love the trail.

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Sunset, Mt. Killington Summit, Vermont

I love the people you meet on the trail….fellow hikers and wanderers from all walks of life; the ridge runners, caretakers and the people who live along the trail and are often eager to provide a little trail magic to those who amble past.

Like, the cookie lady who leaves out plates of fresh baked cookies for passing hikers.

And Jim Tabor, a trail maintainer in Pennsylvania who leaves hand-carved, wooden spoons along the trail.

And the caretakers at Upper Goose Pond cabin in Massachusetts who make pancakes every morning for hikers who stay the night.

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Upper Goose Pond Cabin, Massachusetts

I love that you can feel totally comfortable taking food from a stranger you meet on the trail….or bunking down next to one in a tent or a shelter.

I love snuggling up in my sleeping bag at night….cozy in the confines of my tent….reading by the light of my headlamp….or simply lying there and listening to the varied sounds of the woods at night.

I love how people are happy to connect and share a bit about themselves and their own journey’s around pots of trail food and campfires.

I love how, inevitably, the conversation almost always turns to gear and pack weight and how I learn something new from a fellow hiker every time I venture out.

I love the huge sense of accomplishment I feel after conquering a particularly difficult section of trail….and how grounded and centered and confident I feel from having lived for days in the wilderness carrying everything I needed to survive on my back.

I love that I miss it when I leave it.

I love the natural beauty of the trail, its history and the stories of the many unique individuals who have hiked it.

People like Earl Shaffer, a World War II veteran, who, in 1948, told friends he was going to “walk off the war” and became the first known person to thru-hike the trail from end to end.  His journey has inspired dozens of other military veterans struggling with PTSD.

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood was the first woman to thru-hike the trail solo in 1955….at the age of 67 and wearing a pair of Keds sneakers.

At the time of her journey, Emma was divorced, having survived a 33 year marriage, during which she was often savagely beaten.  She later said that when her husband became violent, she would run from the house into the woods, where she found peace and solitude.

One day, she told her grown children she was going for a walk….and then she completed the AT.

She hiked the trail again five years later at the age of 72….and again at the age of 75.  She was the first to hike the trail three times.

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Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

In 1990, Bill Irwin was the first blind person to hike the trail.  He relied solely on his guide dog, Orient, as he ascended mountains and forded rivers.  A recovering alcoholic who turned to religion in his sobriety, Mr. Irwin once said the first bible verse he learned was from Corinthians: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”   Not long after, he decided that an AT hike would serve as a powerful example of living his faith.

In 2016, a group of 40 thru-hikers carried a pair of size 13 boots known simply as “Paul’s Boots,” the entire length of the trail.  Each hiker carried the boots for hundreds of miles before passing them off to the next hiker waiting to take Paul along on the walk.

Paul was an Australian who had dreamed of hiking the trail, but never got the chance.  He died of a heart-attack in July, 2015 at the age of 53; leaving behind a packed backpack and three pairs of polished hiking boots.

His wife wrote a letter to Paul’s favorite podcast, “Dirtbag Diaries” hoping that perhaps someone might be able to take a pair of Paul’s boots out onto the trail, just for a picture, but the trail community did far more than that.

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Paul’s Boots on the top of Mt. Katahdin, Maine. End of the trail.

I don’t know that I will ever attempt a thru-hike.  I’m not sure it’s my style. I earned my trail name, Mosey (yes, we take on trail names which are typically bestowed upon us by another hiker), because that’s the way I hike the trail.  I mosey.

It’s not unusual for me to plan my hikes based on a campsite I want stay at, or a particularly beautiful overlook where I might like to hang-out for an afternoon and read a book, bird-watch, or just simply sit awhile.

One afternoon, I was sitting on a large rock in a small river, soaking my feet, reading a book and having some lunch, when a thru-hiker I had been crossing paths with off and on for days stopped and said, “You really do just mosey along, don’t ya?  That’s your trail name, kiddo, Mosey.”    

I’m not concerned with crushing the big miles.  I’m not racing the change in seasons.  I have the luxury of time on my hikes and so I try and absorb every step of it.

But don’t get me wrong.  Thru-hikers are beasts!  It takes a significant amount of grit and fortitude to tough it out and that, in and of itself, is it’s own special journey.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to complete a section with my dad.  He filled a chunk of my childhood with memories of long hikes in state parks, canoe trips down winding rivers, bike rides along abandoned railroad beds, fishing from small, tucked away ponds only my dad seemed to know about, long drives on rural, country roads, camping and boating.

It was from my dad that I developed a deep love, appreciation and respect for the outdoors.

“Never do this.”  My dad would often to say to my brother and I as he stooped to pick up a discarded wrapper, bottle, or can tossed along a trail.  “Never litter.”

“Why?” My brother and I would ask when we were young.

“Because….it turns wild.”  My dad would say.  “Haven’t you ever come across a wild potato chip bag?”

“No!”  My brother and I would exclaim, wide-eyed.  “What do they do?”  

“Ooh, they are vicious!”  My dad would say.

Thanks to my dad, over the years, the outdoors became a peaceful sanctuary and a trusted friend, where I love to disappear as often as possible with a book in hand….or my husband and our little one in tow….to spend hours happily embraced by the woods or a mountain….exploring a new trail, rock-hopping across a stream, or just quietly sitting and watching as my son explores the abundance of rocks and trees and sticks and flowers.

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Since the terrible tragedy that occurred this past Saturday, I have been getting dozens of texts and social media tags from concerned family and friends with links to the articles.

“Are you still going this year?”  They ask.  “Aren’t you afraid?”

And the answer is, “Yes, I’m still going and no, I’m not afraid.”

It has saddened and frustrated me to hear and read the commentary from people who are shouting things like, “Well, of course this happened!  They were out in the WOODS, with STRANGERS!”  

When, in reality, it was among the safest places they could be.

Safer than getting into an Uber.

Safer than walking through a major city.

Safer than attending any large scale public event (concerts, movies, marathons, etc.)

Safer than going for a jog through most neighborhoods….

What happened is not a reflection of the trail or the hiking community, and it would be a shame if it scared people away from the experience, but I don’t think it will.

I think now, more than ever, those of us who love the trail and are drawn to the adventure, will hike on.

What a waste it would be if we didn’t.

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Happy Mother’s Day….

“God could not be everywhere.  Therefore, he created mothers.
~Rudyard Kipling.

Until I actually became a mother, my relationship with Mother’s Day was a complicated one.  My parents divorced when I was very young and in the years that followed, my dad felt no obligation to ensure my brother and I had something to give to our mother for the holiday.

My parents had a terrible marriage and an even worse divorce, so its possible this was an intended malicious act on his part, or it may have been something he didn’t realize he was supposed to do.  Regardless, the slight wasn’t lost on my mother.

It wasn’t that my brother and I had nothing to present to her.  There was always a school created craft.  Also, as we got a little older, my brother and I used to pay special attention to the neighborhood curbside trash and yard sales for treasures we thought she might like.

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This is pretty much what my brother looked like in the 80’s

We brought home things like second-hand wallets, old bottles of perfume and umbrella’s.  Sometimes, we’d scrape-up enough loose change and walk to the Hallmark store in town to pick out a small magnet or a mini-figurine.

Sometimes, we would pick flowers from garden beds throughout town and attempt to fashion a bouquet.  We also made her breakfast in bed, which usually consisted of a loaf of soggy french toast, cereal, pop-tarts and whatever beverage was on-hand.

If my mother ever appreciated our efforts, it was lost in her anger at my father for his failure to help us purchase more suitable gifts.  She would rant and rave, call him and leave screeching messages on his answering machine and grill my brother and I about what he’d purchased for our step-mother.

She would cry and tell us how badly her feelings had been hurt, how sad she felt at not having anything to open, how hard she worked and how she deserved more.  The day would be lost to her disappointment.

The weight of it all was not something we should have been expected to help carry.  We were just little kids.  But, carry it we did.  Every approaching holiday would leave me feeling crippled with dread and anxiety.  I worried endlessly about how we were going to be able to provide my mother with enough to make her happy.

As I got older and eventually began earning money of my own, it became easier to get through these events, but I would still spend weeks worrying that I hadn’t gotten enough, or the exact right thing.  I also knew that no matter what, my mother would want to compare it to whatever had been purchased for my step-mother.

When I reached adulthood, Mother’s Day began to take on a feeling of dreaded obligation, rather than a feeling of joy at celebrating the woman who had given birth to me.  When my relationship with my mother came to a final end, I was relieved not to have to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations.  It became just another day.

When I became a step-mother, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about Mother’s Day.  In the beginning, it continued to feel like just another day.  I felt no maternal stirrings for my step-children, so I had no emotional connection to Mother’s Day.  I was not their mother.  I’m still not their mother, but I am something.

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Being a step-parent is the most complex and complicated relationship I’ve ever been a part of.  I know that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but in my case, the biological mother of my step-children pretty much hates me.

Even though we’ve not once had a single conversation in the more than 10 years I’ve been around, and though I had nothing to do with the demise of her marriage, I seem to be symbolic of something she can’t handle.  As for what that might be, I can only speculate.

When I embarked on the journey of step-parenting, I was without great expectations.  I knew we wouldn’t love each other right away.  I expected there would be feelings of jealousy and resentment on their part and mine.  I knew there would be loyalty conflicts and lines drawn and hurt feelings.  I didn’t push.

I let them get to know me and I got to know them.  When their mother’s negative commentary seeped into our household, I refused to become what I knew she wanted me to be.

Overtime, I think the kids slowly began to see the motives behind what they were hearing versus what they were seeing.  Not that this caused them to love their mother any less and like me any more, but I think they began to form their own opinions and to open themselves up to a growing relationship with me.

I like to think I’ve been a positive influence.  When I first met the kids, they were often paralyzed by any new experience, whether it be trying a new food, visiting a new place, or trying a new activity.  It seemed they believed the world was fraught with danger.

Little by little, I worked to crack that shell.  I took them rock climbing and hiking and camping while patiently and continually reassuring them that they would, in fact, not plummet to the earth and die, get lost and starve, be kidnapped and eaten by hillbillies and/or obtain some type of biological disease carried by random woodland creatures.

I introduced new foods, my dad taught them to fish, I sought out fun and interesting places to visit, coaxed them onto their first plane ride, taught them to golf and tried to teach them to ski.  My step-son is now obsessed, but my step-daughter is still afraid that she will crash, head first into a tree….on the treeless bunny slopes.  We’re working on it.

But still, I’ve often said that if my step-children grow-up and do amazing things, some will say it happened despite my presence in their lives.  If they grow-up and become serial killers, it will be all my fault.

As the years have passed and our relationships with one another have continued to evolve and seek definition, I’ve continued to have no expectations of recognition on Mother’s Day.

In part, I’m sure it’s to save myself from hurt feelings, but at the same time, I know I am not their mother and if the day holds an exclusive meaning for them, I would never seek to intrude.

With that being said, I’ve not gone without it.  At some point, they began getting me a card and a small gift.  The card typically has the word “Step” written by one of them in front of the word “Mom” anywhere it’s printed on the card.  I’ve never viewed it as a negative, only as a boundary.  I am their step-mom.  It’s not the same as being their mom.  I like the distinction.

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My husband has always insisted he has not influenced the kids to acknowledge me on Mother’s Day, but I’ve always suspected he may have planted the seed.

However, one year, when my step-son was ten, he presented me with a school craft he’d made.  It was a long piece of construction paper that included a picture of himself holding a giant sunflower.  Underneath the photo, it said, “Happy Mother’s Day” and printed below was a list of things he loved about me.

I’m not a particularly emotional person, but when he gave it to me, I’ll admit that I thought my heart might burst.  I thanked him and told him it was the best gift I’d ever been given and I meant it.  Later, I took it to my room and cried.  Then I framed it and hung it.

Then, I became a mom in the traditional sense of the word and I still don’t want or expect grandiose gestures for Mother’s Day.  I just want to enjoy a quiet, simple day with my little family.

My own son always presents me with a handmade craft and I always cherish it.  More importantly though, he knows that I cherish it.  He know’s it enough and that he is enough.

All this week, I’ve been reading the various editorials written about the all the different kinds of mom’s out there.  The harried and frazzled, the mother’s who have lost children, the women who have lost their mother’s, the foster and adoptive mom’s and the all the other women who stepped in and took on the role of a mother when they were needed most.

I’ve laughed, sympathized, felt sad.  Mostly though, I’ve felt grateful.  And that is truly the best gift of all.

I hope all you moms out there get what you need this Mother’s Day too.

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Some People Have Family Home Video’s. I Have 500+ Pages of Police Reports and Body-Cam Video….

“Does anyone else hear banjo’s?” ~Me

Life has been weird.

A year and a half ago, my brother and I, along with our respective significant others, entered into a legal battle with our mother, who I haven’t spoken to in more than ten years.  Our fight was over my niece, Lele; the child of my middle brother.

The case has now mostly concluded, if you’d like to read about that hillbilly drama, click here:  The Legal System Sucks or, just scroll down to my prior post.

But if you’d like the Reader’s Digest version, the long and the short of it is this, my brother and I are now the proud parents of a seven year old.

Over the course of the last year and a half, my time has largely revolved around the case.        Every day, there was new evidence to review, conversations to be had with our attorneys and a near daily deluge of new issues created by mother, all of which had to be addressed and managed.

Essentially, my mother didn’t have a respectable case to put on, so her strategy was to attempt to drain me financially; to rob my family of our financial future….and let’s just say the court allowed her to do it.

Meanwhile, we did our best to stay on the high road.  We accumulated our evidence and prepared to present our case.

In an effort to help minimize some of the mounting legal fees, I did a lot of the administrative work for our attorney’s.  I indexed transcripts from various hearings and depositions.  I created detailed timelines and summarized dozens of records, from police reports, to more than 40 hours of jail/prison calls.

It was mentally exhausting.  But it’s done now and so it’s time to box this mess up and carry on.  Which, is sort of a metaphor for the first 30-odd years of my life.

I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy dissecting my childhood and adolescence and early adulthood.  I’ve tried 1:1 therapy and group therapy.  I’ve had both male and female therapists and I’ve tried a few psychiatrists/psychologists as well.  But I’ve never been able to connect to counseling.

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I couldn’t understand the incessant need to draw parallels between my “trauma past” and my present.  I already knew about those parallels.

I had crappy communication skills and when I fought, I fought to win.  I spewed mean things, like really mean things that were intended to cut to the emotional quick.  I brought bombs to verbal debates.  

And yeah….I did it, because it’s all I knew.  I never learned the art of resolving conflict without drawing blood and/or causing permanent emotional trauma.

I knew that the way I responded to life wasn’t healthy or productive.  I knew right from wrong.  I never felt good about myself in the aftermath of a blow-out with someone I cared about.

So, self-reflection, got it.


As I got older, I stopped trying to hide my past and I became pretty open about my experiences, regardless of the audience.

You might talk about your idyllic upbringing on a maple syrup farm in Vermont and gush about how much you’ve come to cherish your relationship with your mother while we’re out to brunch for the first time….I might (most definitely will) talk about how my family got kicked out of church when I was a kid and that time my mom hit me so hard in the face, I saw actual stars.

So, ability to talk about it….check!


I could acknowledge that crappy things happened to me, but that in the grand scheme of things, I was still a person of privilege.

Perspective?  Yup.


I have sat with it.  I’ve acknowledged it.  I’ve mourned it.  I’ve felt all of the feelings for it.  I’ve analyzed it, accepted it, honored it….all the stuff.

I didn’t need to keep talking about it.  I needed to know what I was supposed to do with it.  I had been carrying around this load of emotional garbage for so long, I honestly didn’t know how to function without it.  And it was fucking shit up.

It was making me ugly and mean and jaded and really, just an asshole, but not the kind of asshole people like.

What I needed to know and what NOBODY told me in all the talking and talking and talking….was that I could just let it go.  That I could cut the shit, and stop being such a jerk, and just choose to be happy.

The revelation came after a rough session in couples counseling with my husband.  So, maybe therapy was helpful after all.  But, I don’t know, I think the Aha! was born more out of annoyance than therapeutic progress.

Anyway, I was talking to our therapist about something specific that was triggering me in our marriage.  A slight I felt was real.  And it was.

I wanted, desperately, for her to understand that this was a feeling I was having that was relevant to the present and not deeply rooted in my past.  But she wasn’t having it.  As I was word vomiting she said to me, “He’s not your mother.”  

And all hell broke loose.  Out of me.  It’s possible I levitated.  I got up and left, declaring I was done.

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From there, I did exactly what I always did.  I ran and took my garbage with me.  I disappeared from my life and my husband and into myself and my garbage.  I waged a war in my head with everyone until I was exhausted.

And then, something clicked.  My feelings and thoughts mattered.  I knew this.  But no one could hear me through the filter of my garbage.

And that wasn’t going to change until I made peace with it and let it go.

So I did.

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Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done.  It requires taking a giant leap of faith into life; over and over again.  And sometimes, it’s scary and it’s hard.  Especially when you know you’re showing up without any of the tools you’re supposed to have.  It’s kind of like bursting into a crowded room, naked.  But the alternative, is not showing up at all.

And I wanted to show up.  I was married to a really great guy, like truly THE BEST, who was trying so damn hard to understand me and show up for me, even when I made it nearly impossible.

We had started a family of our own.  I was a mother and I worried every single minute that I would mess it up.

I believed I would ruin everything.  I knew I would self-sabotage and drive my life into the ground and there would be no coming back from it.  I didn’t want that, of course I didn’t, but I couldn’t figure out how to exist among the mess.

Forever, I had been trying to figure out how to live and behave and communicate through and/or around the garbage.  I had been waiting and listening and even asking for instructions on how to do that.  I thought that’s what therapy was for.  To teach me how to live like a normal person, but within the confines of my dysfunction.  I don’t even know if that makes sense.

It never occurred to me that I could just pack it up and put it away.  Yes, it’s still a part of my story, but I don’t have to lug it around.  And there is so much power in that.

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I have managed to break the cycles of abuse and dysfunction and addiction that I grew-up with.  I decided it wasn’t the way I wanted to live, and then I set about figuring out how to live the life I wanted.

Simply put, I decided to be happy.  And I think it’s the best way to honor the part of me that spent way too many years being afraid.

I read once, that “happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed.  Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”

I don’t know about all that.  I certainly don’t love every minute and I’m not always willing to extend grace, but I am grateful AF.  Because, I have a lot to be grateful for.

So while I’d like to sit in self-righteous indignation for a little while longer (I never said I was perfect), I’m going to pack this stuff up too and let it go.  The question is though, where do I put it?  Not metaphorically.  I mean literally.

Should I tuck away the body cam videos with our collection of home movies?  You know, so that we can all gather together someday and reminisce while we watch my son blow out his first birthday candles….and then watch my mom stand on the front lawn, barefoot on a cold December day, the remnants of Halloween decorations and that one, cracked, plastic Santa that’s been there since 2001, visible in the background, while she tells a police officer she suspects one of my brothers of throwing a brick through the back window of her car….only, the brick isn’t anywhere to be found, until she magically discovers it lying at an angle that makes it obvious it was either planted, or it’s just part of the neighbors landscaping.

Would the police and court records related to the all those calls about dogs running at large and a missing ferret, go with the old mementos I saved from my first fur baby?

FYI on the ferret, I hope he made it out of there.  Or, I hope he was at least a meal for one of the pets starving to death in that house.  I’m not sure which I hope for more.

Do the various cards and letters I’ve saved over the years, go with the stacks of JPay communications I subpoenaed from two different correctional facilities?  (JPay is prison email, if you don’t know….and really, if you are going to follow me here, you’re going to have to learn my language).

You know, I think I’ll just leave it all in a nondescript box to collect dust in the deepest recesses of our basement and hope it’s one of those things the kids just arbitrarily dump off at Goodwill or something, after I’m dead.

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I Blame Ohio Child Protective Services & The Court of Common Pleas….among others

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
~The Joker, Batman

It’s been a minute since I’ve last been here.

Some of you might be thinking….huh, I hadn’t noticed.  

But to those of you who did,….I BLAME OHIO CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES AND THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS (And yes, I blame them all in shouty capitals), for my lack of output.

Here’s why:

Thanksgiving weekend, 2017,  I got a call from my brother Allan in Ohio.

“I just found out that Lele has missed over twenty days of school.  I’m so fucking pissed.  We have to do something.”

Lele is our niece.  She is the daughter of another brother, Tyler, who has a long history of substance abuse, gang affiliation and other criminal activities.

Lele’s mom, Dee, has had her own struggles and a complicated backstory.  She gave birth to Lele when she was sixteen and a month later, her own mother was evicted from their home and Dee was abandoned with a newborn and nowhere to go.

I imagine that being a teen parent is hard.  Hell, being a grown-up parent is hard.  But for Dee and Tyler, it was about a million times more difficult.  Not just because they were rootless with a newborn baby, but because within weeks of her birth, Lele was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis.

CF is a hereditary, incurable, life-threatening disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. The disease requires strict adherence to a treatment plan that includes a lifetime of fistfuls of medications, multiple daily breathing treatments and chest PT.

After the eviction, Tyler, Dee and Lele lived briefly with my mother, which is the literal equivalent, of living in hell.

From there, they stayed with my brother Allan for a few months before finally settling into an apartment of their own when Lele was about six months old.

They had been in the apartment for less than a month, when Tyler was arrested for violating a restraining order our mother had against him….a restraining order she helped him violate, by picking him up at his apartment, so that he could come to her house and do drugs and get drunk in her garage with our youngest brother.  Because….family bonding time is important, obviously.

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Tyler got caught, because he and my mother got into a booze/drug fueled fight and the police were called.  Naturally, the two of them fled the scene.

But my mother is a narc.  After first lying to the police, who weren’t buying it….and I assume under a threat to her own freedom….she sold Tyler down the river and he was arrested.

In the midst of all this, Lele developed a rare, CF related infection and had to be hospitalized.   It was serious and scary.

So of course, my mother took the opportunity to make matters worse, by calling Child Protective services for about the eleventy-billionth time, and reporting Dee for a host of fabricated neglect claims.

The eventual outcome was that Dee was required to move out of her apartment and in with her aunt, where Lele would also be required to go and live after she was released from the hospital.

Lele and Dee lived with her aunt for the next three years and Lele thrived there.  Then, in early winter, 2015, Dee decided she was ready to move into her own place.  She didn’t make it a year before my mother drove her to a literal nervous breakdown.

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She inundated Dee with abusive and vile text messages and phone calls and threats….there were hundreds of them, (and that’s no exaggeration) a day, to the point that Dee’s body and mind began to break down under the siege.

Recognizing that she was losing her grip, Dee left Lele with her aunt and checked herself into the hospital.

When my mother figured this out, she took Tyler, Lele’s dad….who was fresh out jail and rehab….to court where he filed for emergency custody of his daughter and got it.

At the time, Tyler had an apartment in a neighborhood where the odds of being the victim of a drive-by shooting, were greater than the odds of not.

During her stays on the corner of Crack and Bone Thugs in Harmony, Lele witnessed multiple fist fights between her dad and his various on-again, off-again roommates.

One of her regular babysitters, was a registered sex-offender.

She witnessed one of her dad’s girlfriends slit her own throat in front of her.

And she got struck in the chest by a firework, lit by one of her dad’s best buddies, which caused third degree burns across her chest.

After a few months of a sick kid cramping his style, Tyler packed up his vaping supplies, bottles of Old English, dime bags and roach clips and moved back in with our mother.

Then, things went from bad, to worse.  If you can believe that’s even possible.

Tyler set up a pharmaceuticals business in the garage where he cooked up K2 in the dirty pots and pans he pilfered from our mother’s kitchen.  While Lele was a witness and also a victim, of my mother’s rage.

She saw my mother banging down doors, screaming obscenities (including at her), hitting people (including her) and breaking things.

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She took baths and brushed her teeth in a bathroom where a sick cat often vomited in the sink and no one bothered to clean it up.  NOT IT!

And she played around the dog shit and piss that littered the carpeting throughout the house.

She ate her meals at a table where the leftovers from previous meals were left to grow fur for weeks.

Her medications and the various components for her nebulizer, that are supposed to be kept sterilized, were strewn about the kitchen that was riddled with old food and garbage and filth.

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When tensions between my mother and Tyler came to a head, my mother evicted him.  But Tyler still had custody of his daughter.  So, he and Dee made the decision to again leave Lele with Dee’s aunt.

This time, it was my mother who filed for emergency custody of Lele and she got it, despite being denied at least two other times.

At the first emergency custody hearing, my mother lied about everything from Lele’s background to her medical history.

Of course, Magistrate Massengill (it’s fitting, trust me) who heard the case wouldn’t have necessarily known she was lying.  Neither Dee nor Tyler were present.  None of us knew about the hearing, so no one was there to refute anything she said.

But Massengill did know that when Tyler obtained custody of Lele a year or so prior….following Dee’s nervous breakdown….that it was agreed upon between Tyler and Dee, that my mother would be less of a presence in Lele’s life.

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This should have been a red flag.  But my mother was granted emergency custody anyway….without anyone even bothering to verify that the story she was telling was the truth.

From there, my mother drove to the aunts house to claim her stolen prize; taking Lele from a home my mother knew was clean and safe, back to her hovel that often served as a flop house for a revolving door of drug addicts and derelicts.

A home where the police had been called literally HUNDREDS of times.  For things like….my mother chopping up her lawn furniture with an ax in the midst of a domestic dispute with my step-dad.

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After a few additional hearings, during which my mother continued to lie….she was granted permanent custody.

And throughout the entire process, there were no checks and balances in place, that I have been able to identify, designed to ensure that Lele was going to a home where she would be safe.

There were no requirements that my mother call witnesses, or provide documents that supported the story she was telling.

There were no third party social workers assigned to investigate her claims.  No one did a home visit.  No one talked to other family members.  No one bothered to talk to Lele.

No one bothered to check police records, or consult with Child Protective services to see if there were any on-going, or past investigations related to Lele’s care.

OR, more importantly, whether my mother had any history of child abuse allegations….which she does.

Nope.  My mother just waltzed in there, spewed a bunch of bull-shit and walked out of there with a kid and an order for child support payments.  Cha-Ching!

And that’s how easy it is to “legally” steal a kid in the state of Ohio.

Had anyone bothered to do any amount of background checking, or even just a quick Google search, they would have found, that among MANY other things, my mother is a big, fat liar.

A woman who, just a few months prior, had been banned by a municipal court judge, from ever owning a dog again.

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That’s right folks!  She isn’t allowed to own a dog.  EVER.  But a kid with a terminal illness?  Eh, no problem.

Allan and I talked regularly about calling the Ohio Department of Child Endangerment Services, I mean Protective Services (honest mistake) for Lele, but we knew, thanks to our own wretched childhoods, that they wouldn’t actually do anything….because they don’t like to get involved until it’s time to exhume the body.

Seriously, it’s always the same story.  “There just wasn’t enough evidence.”  

Or, “Our case loads were too full.”  

We send people to death row based purely on circumstantial evidence, but when it comes to child abuse it’s like, “Yeah, it’s true the mom said those two broken legs and that black eye and those cigarette burns happened when little Destiny fell off the bike she didn’t have, but what could we do?

So, when Allan called to tell me that Lele had missed more than twenty days of school, barely three months into the school year, I thought, “tale as old as time.”

And then, I reminded him that if we called the authorities and told them what we knew, that our mother would find out who called….and then, not only would she never allow us to see Lele again, but she would have us permanently silenced by someone willing to accept a WIC voucher as payment.

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But, I guess we were feeling a bit ballsy at the end of the chat, because we decided Allan should at least try and speak to the principal at Lele’s school.

He knew her well enough, because he and his partner often did school pick-up and drop-off.  They were also the stand-ins at father-daughter events at Lele’s school, because Tyler usually had warrants and so wasn’t allowed on school property.

Of course, the principal couldn’t tell him anything, but she did listen.  And then she shared the information with the school’s social worker, who made a call to Child Protective Services.

When the social worker showed up to my mother’s house, she wasn’t home.  She’d checked herself into the hospital….which is where she likes to go when the authorities are closing in.

And while she was away trying to swindle some good prescription drugs out of the hospital staff, she left Lele in the care of Tyler….who had recently moved back in and was busy making dabs in the garage….and her husband, my step-dad; a non-compliant and blind diabetic, who, after serving twenty-years of time with my mother, has lost the will to live.

The social worker left her card with whoever answered the door, truly, it could have been anyone….and Allan and I were ultimately able to get the information and give her a call.

Fast forward to today….my brother and I are now the proud parents of a daughter.

Which means that someone out there from my adolescence, probably one of my elementary school teachers, just won a bet on how my life would turn out.

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But it didn’t happen overnight.  It took a year and a half and nearly $200k to pry my niece from the clutches of Satan’s chief lieutenant.  And no, I did not just happen to have that money lying around for a rainy day custody dispute.

When we started the process, I had no idea what we were truly in for.  I figured that if you tell the truth and you do all the right things, you have nothing to worry about.  But that’s a load of crap.

Once my mother knew we were behind the coup to free our niece, she did the following:

  1.  Got my brother Allan fired from his job.

  2. Accused him of sexually molesting Lele….and then going so far as to subject her (at six years old) to an internal forensic examination.  And just in case in you are wondering, my niece was clear, repeatedly, that no such abuse had ever occurred.  Even the medical professionals and a detective who interviewed my niece extensively, were like, “yeah, this didn’t happen.” And my mother was like, “peek in there anyway.”

  3. Got Allan kicked off the Board of Directors for the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he had volunteered his time since Lele was an infant and helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for CF research.

  4. Made multiple phone calls, often as an anonymous tipster, to accuse Allan of molesting and endagering, not just Lele, but our other two nieces as well….one of whom was a newborn at the time.

  5. Accused him of verbally assaulting her and threatening her in the parking lot at Lele’s school during a court ordered visitation exchange.  Good thing there are security camera’s covering that parking lot.

  6. Accused me of attempting to bride witnesses, including Lele’s dad, by offering money and housing if they would agree to lie on my behalf.

  7. Lied at every single hearing and throughout her deposition, all under oath.

And you know what the consequences were for all the harassment and lying and deflecting and squandering of resources?  Nothing.  At least not for the liar.

But for us, it cost THOUSANDS in additional legal fees in order to protect and defend ourselves.

My brother had to obtain a protection order against our mother, which didn’t matter, because she repeatedly violated it.

I guess the way it works, is that unless the violator is clutching your still beating heart in their hands, while making snow angels in your blood, the protection order is really just a piece of paper that means nothing.

Early on in the case, Child Protective Services bailed out, leaving us to duke this out in the Court of Common Pleas on our own.  Thanks for nothing, assholes!

And as the case progressed, and the legal fees mounted, and my mother continued to create barriers toward progress and lie without consequence, I came to understand why no one ever stepped up for me when I was a kid.  Ah…I’m healed.

We had six days of trial scheduled.  Our attorneys spent hours preparing.

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We subpoenaed something like 30 witnesses, all of whom had to be served and then organized and scheduled to appear on specific days and times.

We had over 500 copies of police reports and body cam video’s.

We had more than 10,000 pages of medical records.

We had transcripts from prior hearings, the deposition transcripts and hundreds of text messages and photographs.

We had copies of jail/prison communications between Tyler and my mother (because yeah, he was incarcerated shortly after the case got underway) and all the audio of their phone calls….including a call in which my mother could be heard both screaming, and then hitting Lele while she cried in the background.

We showed up on the first day ready to present our case.

My mother’s free lawyer, Melanoma McChiclet-Teeth, an ambulance chaser with no family law experience she suckered into representing her pro-bono, showed up with a yellow legal pad and a bag of shit, aka, his client.

We never got a trial though.  Instead, we arrived to find out, as is apparently typical, that the court was double booked and we were in second place.

While we waited, we were encouraged to try and figure it out on our own.  As if we hadn’t already been trying to do that.  For a year and a half.  With no resolution.

But, we did ultimately settle under pressure from the court.  My mother caved and we agreed to a resolution we were happy with, but not until the end of court on the second day.

We never got the opportunity to present any of our evidence.  Our mother never had to answer for the things that she did.

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And we never got to bring to light all the ways in which the system failed Lele.  It took my mother only three trips to court and virtually no real evidence, to obtain custody of her.   But it took a year and a half and nearly everything we had, to free her.  That is shameful.

At one point, I commented to someone that I was disappointed in Child Protective Services and their lack of action.  She said, “What Lele has been through is bad.  There’s no doubt about it.  But it’s not as bad as a lot of the other cases we have to deal with.”

And that makes me so sad.

But I am glad that Lele won’t be one of those kids who falls between the cracks in the system because she just wasn’t being abused enough.  

Now that it’s mostly over, I’ve got to deal with some pretty heavy feelings of resentment and anger, because what’s been taken from my family and me, can’t ever be repaid.

I’m angry for all the once in a lifetime moments I missed out on in my own son’s life, while traveling back and forth for court while my mother found shady new ways to drag it all out.

I’m angry about the ways the court system and law enforcement allowed my mother to abuse us throughout this process.

I’m angry about the occasional snide comments made by Magistrate Massengill about the size of my house….OBJECTION!  Relevance, your honorable asshole?

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And, I’m angry about the significantly disproportionate way in which fees were allocated among the parties (I paid the bulk of everything), which was based on nothing other than   a household income number.  A number that did not take into account cost of living differences, or a detailed accounting of household expenses.

My husband and I are frugal savers.  The only debt we carry is mortgage related.

And the “big house” the magistrate was so found of commenting on, is a fixer upper that was built in 1731 and purchased for about half the market value for homes in our community, due to the extensive renovations it required and still does.  

My mother on the other hand likes to accumulate massive amounts of credit card and other debt and then file for bankruptcy.

She refuses to work a job that doesn’t pay under the table, or isn’t tip based….and not because she lacks the education or ability, but because it’s the only way she can make sure she qualifies for as much government assistance as possible.

So it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow when the court allowed her to steal from me too….especially given that I did nothing to cause any of what was happening to be necessary.

No good deed goes unpunished.

As for Lele, despite everything she’s been through, she remains an incredilby upbeat and positive and sweet and compassionate kid.

She’s insightful and smart and funny and silly and FULL of energy and life.  And she isn’t afraid to give her love her away, despite all the many ways her love has been rejected by those who should have cherished it most.

She’s got a small army of people now who are committed to helping her heal, adjust and grow and thrive and she will.  Because….“though she but little, she is fierce.”

The Birds & The Bees….

Do you pee out of your butt? ~ My Son

A few years ago, my son, Snugs McNugget (yes, that’s his real name), walked in on me while I was using the bathroom.  He was about four at the time and immediately upon seeing me on the toilet, he inquired, “Are you dropping a deuce?”

When I informed him that I was peeing, he began laughing as though I was a complete imbecile.

Snugs:  You pee standing up.  You poop sitting down!  

Me:  Honey, Mommy is a girl.  Girls pee sitting down.

Snugs:  Where is your penis?

Me:  Mommy, doesn’t have a penis.  I have a vagina.

Snugs, laughing hysterically:  A bagina!  What’s a bagina?

Thankfully, he lost interest shortly thereafter and I was spared the need to provide any additional detail.

Now my son is six and a Kindergartner and he’s become interested in understanding where babies come from and the anatomical differences between males and females.

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Earlier in the school year, he came home from school and informed me that one of his classmates, Jacob, had seen his sisters “wagenda.”

Me:  Her what?

Snugs:  Her wagenda.  You know, her wagenda (points to his crotch).

Me:  Oh…her wagenda.  I see.

Snugs:  Can I see yours?

Me:  No.  That would be inappropriate.  You should never ask a woman if you can see her wagenda.  It’s a private part and remember, it’s important to respect a person’s privacy.

Snugs:  I just really want to see one.  Jacob said it looks like a butt.  Does it look like a butt?  Do girls have two butts?  Wait, do you pee out of your butt?

Me:  Um….

HELP!

I haven’t the slightest idea how to have these conversations.

For the most part, nobody talked to me about this stuff when I was a kid.  When I asked my great-grandpa where babies came from, he told me he found me in the yard one afternoon, sitting in a buttercup.  And I believed it….for years.

Later, I picked up the general basics from movies and from walking in on my mother having sex with a guy named Ron she met in rehab.

The only other bit of education I got was when my mother said, “Do you want your cooter to smell like a fish stick?  No?  Then keep your pants on.”

I’m fairly certain the fear of smelling like a Gordon’s fisherman was the reason I preserved my virginity far longer than most of my peers.

So, what amount of information is too much information?

What if my son goes to school and shares his knowledge with other kids, who tell their parents, who then call me and are all like, WTF!?

Honestly, it’s moments like these I feel woefully ill-equipped as a parent and a little bitter about the lack of accurate information I was given as a child.

In most situations, when I don’t know the exact right answer, I say, “We’ll find a book on the subject.”  

A quick internet search proved that there are apparently a million choices.  Does anyone out there have a recommendation?

Something by Dr. Seuss perhaps….There’s a Wagenda on the Agenda!

Actually, that sounds more like something Mike Pence would write and so no.  Just no.

I don’t want my son to grow-up misinformed (except for the whole wagenda thing, I’m going to let that one go for a while), or embarrassed to ask questions he might have about sex.  I’d prefer he ask his dad, but whatever.

I’ve convinced him that I know everything and so heavy is the head that wears the crown.  I need to deliver.  But first, I need book suggestions….

 

I Love Pampered Chef….and Other Lies I Tell at the Post Office

“My life is just a series of awkward and humiliating moments separated by snacks.” ~Unknown

This morning, I stopped into the post office to pick up some bread and milk.  Just kidding…I stopped to mail a package.

Anyway, there was only one person working at the desk and a relatively long line.  After about five minutes, the woman in front me turned and asked if it would be OK if she stepped out of line for a moment to set her heavy looking package on the counter.

I smiled and told her I didn’t mind at all.

When she returned, she informed me that her daughter had just recently moved to Arizona and she was mailing her a box of duplicate Pampered Chef items she’d accidentally purchased more than once, while at different parties.

I thought about telling her the last thing my mom mailed to me were treasures from my childhood….covered in green mold and mostly broken….but I didn’t, because I’m working on improving my small talk skills.

“Obviously, I love Pampered Chef.”  She said.

“Me too.”  I lied….for literally no reason.  “I have so much of it.”  (Lie)

“What’s your favorite product?”  She asked.

“Fuck.”  I said.  (Lie)

I have one thing from Pampered Chef.  A pizza stone I bought when a neighbor hosted a party at least eight years ago and I doubt it’s the pinnacle of their product line.

What I actually said was, “Just one favorite?!  There are so many.”  (Lie)

She told me she had a lot of favorites too….including some kind of pan, that had some sort of foam thing and maybe a heart, I’m not really sure, I wasn’t really listening, but then she said her prized items were the knives.

That sounded good, so I told her I would have to agree. (Lie)

Apparently, those knives are pretty damn special, because she informed me she is the only person in her household allowed to use them.

I told her I was the only person in my household who ever cooked and that I doubted anyone in my family would even knew where to find a knife, let alone what to do with it if they did.  (Lie)

Then she asked if I purchased often and if I knew a consultant, or just attended regular parties. Then, I panicked.

I knew that if I told her neither applied, I’d probably end up leaving there with a business card, a catalog and possibly a commitment to host a party in the very near future.

So, I told her I had a consultant.  (Lie)

“That’s great!  Good to have the connection.  Is she local, what’s her name?”

“Fuck.” I said.  (Lie)

“No, not local.”  Her name is Wendy.  I’ve known her since college, she lives in Kentucky.”  (LIES….ALL LIES).

Then she gave me her card and told me that if I was ever interested in attending a local party and meeting some new people, to give her a call or send her an email.

“Awesome!  I definitely will!”  I said with enthusiasm.  (Lie)

Now, I have to find a new post office.

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I Love You Target, But We Need To Talk….

“To be honest, I’m just winging it.  Life, motherhood, my eyeliner.  Everything.” ~Unknown

Along with just about every other suburban mom, I worship regularly at the church of Target.

My Target recently went through a small renovation to make way for the implementation of even more self-checkout aisles.

Personally, I hate self-checkout.  If I have to go into the store, do all the shopping and then do all the work of scanning and bagging my purchases, I feel like I should be rewarded with a discount for having saved the business the cost of an hourly associate.

But today, I needed to make an expedited Target run for three specific things.  For me, an expedited run means that I quickly grab the things I need and then swing by Bullseye’s Playground.  Because c’mon….I don’t have that much self-control.

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The section had been largely picked through and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find anything to add to my basket, so I headed toward the check-out, feeling a little disappointed, but then deciding that my cost savings justified a stop at Starbucks on the way out the door.  YES!

My Target has something like 127 check-out lanes, but rarely do they open more than two.  Most of the time, I don’t care, because  there is ample reading material and a wide snack and beverage selection to keep me occupied while I wait.

But today, I just didn’t have the time.  I decided I would have to proceed with self-checkout.  I approached the register and began following the instructions on the screen. Then, my eyes shifted upward and I caught sight of something so horrifying, I almost dropped dead.

It took me a second to realize that the swamp monster staring back at me, was MYSELF; reflected back at me through the over-sized security monitor Target found necessary to perch above each register in self-checkout.

I get it Target, it’s a crime prevention thing.  I know that when I pull into the parking lot at this particular Target and spot a KIA parked among the Volvo’s, luxury SUV’s and mini-vans, I hold my purse a little tighter and sometimes jog into the store.

And I read the police blotter for this area.  I know what kind of community we live in.  All those damned by-law violators and that kid who keeps having pizza’s delivered to his neighbor as a prank….total degenerates.

So, I get it.  I really do.

However, why is it necessary for me to have to see myself, on a screen the size of a small TV, and without some kind of selfie filter to soften the blow?

Do you not know your target audience, Target?  What mom wants to see the enormous bags under her eyes, in HD?

And I swear, my hair looked far less greasy when I left the house this morning, than it looked on your shiny screen, so do you think you could tone down the brightness a tad?

Also, according to my mirror at home, I look a lot slimmer in the “I Love Twinkies” t-shirt I’m wearing today.  Which, by the way, I purchased at your store back in 2005 if that gives you any indication as to how deeply my loyalties lie….so, please, consider adjusting the camera to a more flattering angle.

Thanks to your cruelty, I felt like I had to return the Cadbury Cream Egg I planned to eat for lunch.  Now I’ll just go hungry and you lost a sale.  And good-luck finding that egg, because I most definitely didn’t put it back where I found it.

Lastly, do you know what always makes a person look better?  A black and white image.  I don’t think you need to be able to see the exact shade of my freckles (fine….age spots) in so much vibrant color.

Honestly, Target, I’m not happy.  But, we both know I can’t quit you.

I’ll be back….probably later today, because I saw you were switching out the seasonal items in Bullseye’s Playground, but this is officially your first strike.

5,999,999,999 more and I’ll start shopping Walmart.

You’ve been warned.